Forgetting the Other Paths of History

Mark Patinkin’s column takes a massive military analytical document as a springboard to declare the “incompetence of those” who put our troops in harm’s way:

Up to now, that second point has mostly been made by those labeled war critics. But this week, the Army itself came out with a major report essentially saying the critics are right.
It didn’t use the word “incompetence,” but it might as well have. In short, the 700-page report, titled “On Point II: Transition to the New Campaign,” said there was a rush to war with almost no planning to secure the peace, and negligent decisions — like disbanding the Iraqi military — that led to the instability and violence that continues there today.

I haven’t read the entire book cover to cover, but what I have read and perused left me with a much different impression. For its part, Patinkin’s column left me with the impression of a man rolling gleefully in the B.S. of hindsight’s perfect vision:

Remember the looting that followed the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime? I wondered, as does this new report, why Washington let it go on for days. Anyone with a television could see this wasn’t just a few folks grabbing things from stores, it was a catastrophic stripping of everything of value. I later talked to a soldier returning from an Iraq tour who said that even window frames were torn out. …
The report says our leadership assumed things would quickly stabilize in Iraq as they did after the war in Bosnia and Kosovo. That’s another way of saying there was no planning for what to do after Saddam’s fall. …
Indeed, the new report says the leadership believed post-combat Iraq would need “only a limited commitment by the U.S. military.”
It was a false assumption, one of many mentioned in the new report.
Like the dismissal of the Iraqi army. Others have said this was a huge mistake that instantly created tens of thousands of disaffected, armed, resentful Sunnis ripe for recruitment by the insurgency. Apparently, no one on high worried about that, or seemingly worried about much at all.
I remember another early sense of dread when stories came out about ammunition dumps not being secured. The report cites this as a mistake, too, and it’s not just Monday morning quarterbacking to say it should have been done. You’d think that would be a major priority — taking control of the very arsenal just used against us.

The line that “no one on high … seemingly worried about much at all” is viciously uncharitable and suggests that Patinkin is writing his malignant prose based on others’ summaries of the document, because On Point II puts the apparent errors in the context of other considerations. Yes, the looting and unsecured ammunition depots were worrisome at the time, but we hadn’t yet cleared our minds of the possibility of WMD attacks, and concern still existed that the deposed parties would set about destroying the nation’s oil wealth (as we understood to be a possibility from the first Gulf War). If things had turned out differently, Patinkin might be drumming his fingers on his belly in consternation that we wasted time with window frames and mere bullets as the resources necessary for the rebuilding of Iraq burned and biological weapons were unleashed. He might be decrying the lack of thought behind keeping the enemy military armed and in place only to undermine our efforts from within.
Patinkin’s facileness extends to his churlish insinuation that those who planned and orchestrated the war failed to consider Iran. To the contrary, that nation’s inclusion in President Bush’s Axis of Evil proves that Iran has been front and center in our efforts toward the broader War on Terror, and removing the simpler threat next door — procuring staging grounds and hopefully an ally within stone’s throwing distance — has surely had an effect. Are there doubts about the future? Of course. But war and foreign affairs are not like writing, in which a pundit hits a deadline and walks away confident that his point’s been successfully conveyed. Adjustments must be made, and success is not ensured. Things can turn sour. The stages are strategic, not sequential.
What might Iran have been doing these past several years if we’d shown an unwillingness to dive militarily into the heart of the Middle East? For one thing, it wouldn’t have been investing resources in battling us on the conventional battleground. For another, it would certainly have been devoting thought to the policies suggested by the new world of global terrorism and weapons of mass destruction unleashed by proxy. An amorphous network of global terrorists provides a medium for cooperation between otherwise contentious groups and nations against a common enemy: us.
With Patinkin’s suggestion that Saddam “had been doing our work keeping al-Qaida from turning Iraq into its new base,” he proves that he is no longer conveying the findings of the official document with which he began, but rather is chewing the cud of revisionist history. Indeed, On Point II offers this reminder of the context in which the war in Iraq began:

With the Taliban removed from power and al-Qaeda on the run in Afghanistan, President Bush turned his attention to Iraq. Saddam Hussein’s behavior following the 1991 Gulf War had established the dictator’s willingness to flout international law. Saddam continued to obstruct the weapons inspectors (who had become known as the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission and returned to Iraq), bragged that he would use WMD on Israel if he possessed them, and maintained contact with Islamic terrorist groups.13 In light of the terrorist attacks of 11 September, the possibility of a nuclear-armed Saddam passing WMD or related technology to terrorists, or actually using WMD, could not be permitted by the United States. The Iraqi dictator’s obstructionist tactics and maltreatment of Hans Blix’s team of weapons inspectors provided further cause to view him as a serious threat.

The accuracy of our assessments at the time is a matter of legitimate debate (as is the relevance of particular inaccuracies), but recent efforts — toward which human beings are indubitably prone — to cast actions as clearly identifiable along axes of right and wrong, wise and incompetent, and to reposition ourselves within the light of what we now believe to be correct, such efforts open a path for fatal misjudgments in the future. Yes, we all err frequently in both moral and factual terms in the present, and yes, we oughtn’t shirk our obligation to assess the errors of the past, but we ought to be clear-eyed as we do so, and clarity requires that we recall that the future viewed from the past contained paths that differ dramatically from the present that we’re experiencing.

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ken
ken
13 years ago

Iraq was formally Babylon. Throughout its ancient history, invading armies have never, its been said, successfully occupied Babylon. They have always over time been totally repulsed and driven out of the country returning Babylon to hands of original population.
Lessons learned from Viet Nam “peace keeping action” were not carried forward by USA.

OldTimeLefty
13 years ago

Justin, you said: The line that “no one on high … seemingly worried about much at all” is viciously uncharitable and suggests that Patinkin is writing his malignant prose based on others’ summaries of the document, because On Point II puts the apparent errors in the context of other considerations. Yes, the looting and unsecured ammunition depots were worrisome at the time, but we hadn’t yet cleared our minds of the possibility of WMD attacks, and concern still existed that the deposed parties would set about destroying the nation’s oil wealth (as we understood to be a possibility from the first Gulf War). If things had turned out differently, Patinkin might be drumming his fingers on his belly in consternation that we wasted time with window frames and mere bullets as the resources necessary for the rebuilding of Iraq burned and biological weapons were unleashed. He might be decrying the lack of thought behind keeping the enemy military armed and in place only to undermine our efforts from within. Leaving aside your scurrilous use of phrases like “viciously uncharitable” and “malignant prose” your argument holds no water. Consider this exchange between Amy Goodman and Hans Blix, HANS BLIX: Well, I think there was no way that Saddam Hussein in Iraq could have reconstituted his nuclear program within years after 2003. David Kay went in, and he came out and said, “Well, there are no weapons, but there are [inaudible] programs.” And then he went out, and in went his successor, and he came out after a year and says there are no programs, but there were intentions. In fact, Iraq was prostrate after so many years of sanctions, and it would have taken them many years to recover and to contemplate any nuclear weapons.AMY GOODMAN: What did you understand at… Read more »

msteven
msteven
13 years ago

Nice try, but the decision to invade Iraq was not made in a vacuum, had the support of many other counties including the significant majority of the US Congress. It benefits your view to ignore all of that and attempt to paint the picture that the administration decided to invade Iraq unilaterally and without any thought but just because it wanted to flex its muscles and gets pleasure out of sending people to die.
Obviously, mistakes in judgement were made including the reality of bringing of Democracy to a state such as Iraq and the number of troops used after the initial invasion. But the WMD argument is old and weak. There is lots of evidence that Sadaam had been building WMD’s for years, that he was not complying with the UN Resolutions and not giving the inspectors the access they requested. They also found evidence of chemical weapons development.
The mantra “when Clinton lied, no one died” may have a nice rhyme but don’t try to disguise it as an intelligent summary of the truth. Keep it in the choir.

Monique
Editor
13 years ago

People are still questioning whether Saddam Hussein had WMD??
Here’s an idea. Let’s hold a Congressional hearing. To it, we will invite the hundreds of thousands of Kurdish and Iranian victims and surviving relatives of Hussein’s repeated WMD attacks in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. I’m sure they would be glad to testify that at no point did Saddam Hussein ever have WMD and, if he did, he certainly did not use them on a neighboring country or his fellow countrymen.

Phil
Phil
13 years ago

Susan from Providence
If there was a Congressional hearing about the U.S. and Iraq in the 1980’s and the earlt 90’s I would hope that former Dept. of Defense Sec. Rumsfeld would be called to testify about his meeting with Saddam Hussein on behalf of the Reagan Administration.

Monique
Editor
13 years ago

I would certainly hope so, “Phil”. That would not change the fact that Iraq indubitably possessed and employed WMD at that time.

Phil
Phil
13 years ago

Monique
Do you remember Bush Administration supporter and weapons inspector David Kay saying on return to the U.S. from Iraq “We were all wrong”. The point was not that Saddam Hussein had ever possesed chemical weapons and had used them and had tried to build a nuclear weapon but what state those weapon systems were in at the time of the invasion. Evidence to the contrary of what Cheney and Bush were telling us was swept aside and discounted by the war hawks in the administration. The compliant Congress fearful of being labeled weak did not do the proper oversight and shares blame for having gotten it wrong. Justin may want to vent about Patinkins column with his customary muddled writing but you may want to look at new evidence and make better decisions about supporting any new Bush wars. Runsfeld famously described the insurgency in Iraq as insignificant calling them “deadenders”. Funny thing is now that term could accurately describe people like Justin.

Justin Katz
13 years ago

Whatever I may be called, Phil, I’m sure your regurgitation of partisan spinning leaves many adjectives available for you. Be that as it may…
Kay’s and all other reports have found that Saddam had primed his WMD structure so as to ramp up production within a matter of months of the end of sanctions. I’m sure it’s convenient for you to forget the atmosphere of the early ’00s, but the global patience clock was running out for those sanctions.
Moreover, the “all” in Kay’s comment was “all of us” (not, e.g., “in every particular”), and I see no reason the U.S. Congress would have unearthed evidence contrary to the world’s various intelligence agencies. Moreover, Kay’s report (and all other reports) came after we had finally ousted Saddam and gotten a clearer look at what was going on within Iraq.

Phil
Phil
13 years ago

Justin
the global patience clock? Are you deranged?
Most of the evidence available at the time indicated that Iraq was in violation of UN sanctions but the decision to invade was made by a small group of people that you cannot bring yourself to hold responsible. Cheney and others were focused on Iraq in the early days of the new administration. Richard Clarke makes this point in his book. He is supported in that view by then Sec of the treasury that there was an obession with Iraq. What you and others bought from the Bush Administration was their advertising campaign. Information that did not support their cause was left out. Intelligence agencies analysis of raw data was discarded in favor of neo con spin. I think that political considerations may have been a factor also.
I think people do need to be held responsible for their actions. The soldiers and civilians who have died in that war should not be forgotten. That trumps your petty partisan considerations .

msteven
msteven
13 years ago

Phil, this is a pretty much a repeat performance of my comment above but your response to Justin makes it worthwhile.
The decision to invade Iraq was not made in a vacuum, had the support of many other counties including the significant majority of the US Congress. It benefits your view to ignore all of that and attempt to paint the picture that the administration decided to invade Iraq unilaterally and without any thought but just because it wanted to flex its muscles and gets pleasure out of sending people to die.
Obviously, mistakes in judgment were made including the reality of bringing of Democracy to a state such as Iraq and the number of troops used after the initial invasion.
But the idea that the administration left out certain elements of intelligence to justify the war is absurd. That would mean that the US intelligence was the only source used to make this decision and the administration had complete control over what was available to the congress and other countries.
There are legitimate arguments to be made about the war. The intelligence may have been wrong, but there is no evidence that anything was manipulated or hidden by these ‘few people’. If that were true, don’t you think that would be a major international incident? The deceit of the US President to justify other countries to invade Iraq for no reason, that’d be HUGE. It still makes for partisan fuel, but it is not reality.

OldTimeLefty
13 years ago

Phil,
Why argue with Justin, who obviously thinks that WMD stands for We Manufactured Delusions?
As Cervantes says, “Honey is not for the mouth of the ass.”
OldTimeLefty

msteven
msteven
13 years ago

Yes, when one has no reasoned or coherent response … one-line zingers and name-calling. Go ahead and be proud of your contribution to the art of persuasion.

OldTimeLefty
13 years ago

msteven,
You fool.
I was not attempting to persuade. Phil did a great job of explanation and his attempts fell on deaf ears. I was trying to dissuade Phil from bothering to speak to a man who is obviously beyond the reach of reason.
OTL

msteven
msteven
13 years ago

OTL,
Whose ears are deaf? I responded to Phil’s explanation. No response from him and name-calling from you.
My point stands that those who lack reasoned arguments use name-calling and hyperbole one-line zingers. (think Ann Coulter) Each of your posts simply provides further evidence.

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